REVIEWED BY JAMES PHILLIPS
Rupert Thomson (Corsair: 2021)
Have you ever found yourself curious about the lives of strangers? The stories, connections, friends and dreams that make that person individual and utterly unique? If you have then Barcelona Dreaming is a novel very much for you, just add a vibrant, diverse and pulsating city, along with a healthy dash of masterful storytelling.
Set in and around Barcelona, a cultural and tourist hub of Spain, Thomson’s novel dances on the precipice of the 2008 financial crisis with time portrayed as ever marching, yet paused on the edge of utter change. The book is segmented into three short stories, each following a different narrative of ordinary people. The first follows Amy, a British expatriate, who’s implicated in an accident. The second, Ignacio, befriends a celebrity, and finally Jordi, a young man who falls into murky dealings. Each narrative holds surprise, intrigue, suspense and I was kept enraptured. The book gave me goose-bumps and ignited questions, giving this novel multiple dimensions that I was more than happy to explore.
What makes this novel unique is the subtle connection and crafty coincidences that link these seemingly disparate accounts of everyday lives with each other. Just keep your eyes peeled: they are tucked and folded into the seams, like shards of glass, glinting light when you find that perfect angle. It gave a sense of almost déjà-vu at times, with a delightful ‘small world’ effect that I thought was fascinating. Yet, despite these ingrained connections, Barcelona Dreaming was an easy read. Each narrative felt natural and separate, even believable, without the overtones of being written by the same person, which really is the charm.
Being believable is also key. There are many potential pitfalls in writing a novel with three narratives regarding everyday life, such as making it too boring, or conversely, adding too much. But Thomson provided a near-perfect balance, enough plot to keep me reading and enthralled with each passing event, but including enough grounding detail to transport me into both a city where I’ve never been, and into lives of people who I now feel like I’ve met.
Barcelona is most certainly being added to the travel bucket list: the flavour of sun, labyrinths of streets and myriad of bars and restaurants, alongside passions, coincidence and vivacity, equate to a read for an escape you didn’t know you needed.